Bisleri – a brand that is synonymous with packaged drinking water in India, was originally an Italian company founded by Felice Bisleri. The story of Bisleri Company – How ‘Ek Bisleri Dena’ became the standard term for buying packaged drinking water in India.
Today, Bisleri Company operates 122 plants (13 owned), 4500 distributors, and 5000 distribution trucks in India and neighboring countries.
The output? 15 crore bottles a month. The company aims to triple its 2018-19 revenue of INR 1,500 crores to INR 5,000 crore by 2022.
Bisleri operates brands across mineral water, soft drinks, and soda. Bisleri has aced the SKUs as well – they sell in 250ml, 300ml, 500ml, 1L, 2L, 5L, and 20L capacities.
But how did Bisleri Company become the giant that it is today?
It all started way back in 1969.
1969 – Ramesh Chauhan of the Parle Group buys Bisleri Ltd. from Felice Bisleri. The company had been unable to market bottled water and wanted to exit the market.
Chauhan too did not see any potential for the product at that time.
The quality of water in Europe around World War II was extremely poor, which created the bottled water industry there. India faced a similar issue and Chauhan saw this as an opportunity.
As a soft drinks company, Parle did not have a soda brand in the market. Parle used the name and launched Bisleri Soda with 2 variants – carbonated and non-carbonated mineral water.
During this time, glass bottles were used for soft drinks and soda.
The Italian name added a dash of class to the product. The first print ad campaign captured the international essence and showed a butler with a bow tie.
The punchline was, “Bisleri is veri veri extraordinari“. The spelling was designed to capture the consumer’s attention.
Mid-1980s – The big change. Bisleri switches to PVC packaging and later to PET bottles. The PET packaging ensures better transparency and more importantly, customers can now see the sparkling clear water in the bottles.
1991 – Bisleri introduces their 20 litre pack for home and office use
1993 – Bisleri soda is doing well but production has to be discontinued as Parle sells their soft drink brands to Coca-Cola. The focus now shifts completely to packaged drinking water.
1995 – The masterstroke. Bottled water was consumed only by foreigners and NRIs. To reach out to the masses, Bisleri had to make the category affordable. Enter the comfortable-to-carry 500ml bottle for just INR 5.
The idea is a success:
1. Reduces cost
2. Solves the issue of carrying excess water or throwing the bottle away if someone buys a 1L bottle.
3. Bisleri achieves 400% growth and captures 40% of the INR 300cr bottled water market that is estimated to grow at 50% annually.
The next target was the bulk segment.
Several commercial establishments had no access to piped water. Bisleri taps into this segment by introducing the 12L container, followed by the 20L can. This helps bring down the price per liter from INR 10-12 to INR 3 per liter.
But Bisleri does not stop.
During wedding receptions, the older guests generally stay away from ice cream and soft drinks. Bisleri introduces free samples of Bisleri at the tables where the elderly guests would sit.
Watch: Bisleri Company Camel Ad
This practice is followed today, almost 25 years later.
1998 – Introduces a tamper-proof and tamper-evident seal, to showcase their promise of supplying clean and safe drinking water. Today, Bisleri boasts of a 10 step quality process which includes 114 tests that each bottle goes through.
2000 – Launches the 1.2L Bada Bisleri, aimed at those who share their water, increasing margins per crate (12 bottles).
The same year, BIS cancels the licence of a plant in Delhi because some bottles did not carry the ISI label.
The license is restored 45 days later.
2006 – Bisleri changes its iconic blue label to green to help set it apart from other bottled water brands available in blue packaging. The color is also in line with the increasing global interest in ecology and green earth concepts.
The 2010-2020 decade sees a flurry of brand launches from Bisleri
2011 – Launches Club Soda
2012 – Launches Vedica
2016 – Launches four fizzy soft drinks – Spyci, Limonata, Fonzo and Pina Colada
2017 – Bisleri Launches labels in regional languages across India like Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu, Assamese, Malayalam, Kannada, Bengali, and Oriya across different SKUs.
2018 – Bisleri launches world’s first vertical manufacturing plant for mineral water in Mumbai.
Watch: Funny Bisleri Ads
Distributed across 5 levels and spread over 18000 sq. meters, the plant doubles the production capacity of 430 bottles per minute delivered by the old plant.
The brand name now is so synonymous with packaged drinking water, Bisleri has to launch an ad campaign to counter other brands being sold as Bisleri and to create awareness among consumers that not every packaged water bottle is Bisleri.
2019 – Former Emami COO, Angelo George, takes charge as CEO of Bisleri. This is the first time Bisleri has a professional CEO after Ramesh Chauhan led the company for 40 years. The company also restructures the business for efficient management.
2020 – COVID-19 lockdown begins. Bisleri launches Bisleri@Doorstep Delivery service where consumers can place an order online and receive delivery of Bisleri bottles at home.
The estimated market size of the Indian bottled water industry is ~INR 15,000cr with 20% CAGR.
There are 3,000 brands of bottled water, local and regional, across the country. Among national players, Bisleri competes with Kinley (Coca-Cola India) and Aquafina (PepsiCo).
Bisleri has always managed to innovate to stay ahead of the competition. Today, China’s richest man, Zhong Shanshan, is the founder of bottled water giant Nongfu Spring. Will Bisleri ever go public?
We can only wait and watch.
Read the Story of Parachute Bottle here.
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Cover Image: North East Story